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Chad Cox '92, Civil engineer and project manager

Civil Engineering

Why I chose civil engineering

I applied to Princeton as a liberal arts major, but during the summer before freshman year began to think about being ''in the nation's service.'' Coming from Oklahoma, I had an understanding of good stewardship of water as being key to the health and prosperity of society. So when I learned that the Department of Civil Engineering had a program in water resources, I switched to the School of Engineering and Applied Science. I thought I might work overseas, possibly with the Peace Corps, and this seemed like a good path toward that goal.

After a year and a half, I was happy with my decision, but what ultimately confirmed my choice of major (and career) was a chance encounter on a flight home over break. I sat next to a man who asked about the work I was doing and who turned out to be a civil engineer and the father of a Princetonian. He encouraged me to apply for a summer job in his office at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. I spent two summers there working on large federal dams and irrigation projects. I have been working with dams and water resources ever since.

My summer experiences were valuable in helping me select courses and focus on aspects of my class work that applied to my professional interests. One advantage of studying engineering is that you rarely wonder, ''When am I ever going to use this?'' I studied hydrology with Professors Celia and Jaffé, structural theory and design with the amazing Professor Billington, and wrote my thesis on evaporation reduction under the supervision of Professor Smith. In addition to my engineering courses, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the arts as well as the sciences, and studied Asian history, the literature of the American West, and opera. While I found myself to be at a slight disadvantage as a Princeton-trained civil engineer when I first graduated because I had not been directly instructed in basic computer programs, I believe that, in the long run, my education gave me an advantage by preparing me well in the areas of creativity and critical thinking.

Solving real-world problems

After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Nepal as a water supply engineer, where I built and repaired small water systems in remote mountain villages. My time in the Peace Corps provided me with some of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life, and allowed me to feel like my education was making a real difference in the world. How many economics majors can say that six months after graduation?

Following the Peace Corps, I returned to Oklahoma to work for the largest engineering consulting firm in the state. I spent much of my time working on repairing three dams on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico. After three years, I left to attend MIT, where I obtained my master's of engineering in civil engineering.

Valuing a broad education

I am now a civil engineer and senior project manager with an engineering consulting firm near Boston. I continue to work on dams and water resources, and I do not foresee tiring of the work. Dams in particular involve all the aspects of civil engineering that originally attracted me to the field. Projects often involve a significant technical component, but also require knowledge of wetland science, wildlife impacts, water law, historic and archaeological resources, project management, and more. And the controversy that surrounds many dams always makes for an interesting time at the inevitable public hearing.

I am looking forward to even bigger and better things in the future.

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